“Can, Must, and Will Lead”

With the election of President Obama, there has been steady change in foreign policy that is not nearly as publicized as his domestic agenda.  His team is setting precedent for the new century, shaping the future of American leadership in the world.  Secretary of State Clinton’s speech on September 8, 2010 to the Council on Foreign Relations gave an eloquent description of the new shape of American diplomacy she has been working on for the last year and a half.

“So let me say it clearly: the United States can, must and will lead in this new century.”

She asserted that the two primary concerns of the United States in the near future should be the preservation of sources of American diplomatic power and an emphasis on diplomacy.  US power comes from economic might (another reason for domestic reform and the need to bounce back from the recession), and the moral authority of America.

Clinton’s speech elaborated on a shift in US foreign policy from the unilateral diplomacy of the past Presidents (whether it be her husband or George W. Bush) to multilateral engagement.  She mentioned the different faces of multilateral engagement, from the Wilsonian formal ties to international organizations (UN, NATO, EU, etc.) to informal ties that have recently become the norm.  She mentioned that in one such instance China was building a road in an African village and the US was building a hospital in the same village, and it only seemed logical to have the road go to the hospital.

This emphasis on multilateralism is a new America – an America which recognizes the rise of other nations at the regional and international level and their potential for .  Clinton mentioned Antiquated international organizations buckling under the pressure of new challenges.  Although major powers are at peace, new threats are guiding international policy.  This new set of assumptions does not mean the fall of the US from the world stage – in fact, Clinton argues quite the opposite. “The world is counting on us today”, and this new world requires the application of American pressure where it is needed.

With Israel-Palestine peace talks in the process, she had to mention this victory, showing the integral position of the US in these talks:

“Consider the Middle East peace talks. At one level they are bilateral negotiations involving two peoples and a relatively small strip of land. But step back and it becomes clear how important the regional dimensions and even the global dimensions of what started last week are, and what a significant role institutions like the Quartet, consisting of the United States and Russia and the European Union and the U.N., as well as the Arab League, are playing — and equally, if not more so, how vital American participation really is.”

This speech by Clinton was in many ways a counterpoint to Obama’s speech upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  The might of American diplomacy for nearly a century has been its military.  The recognition of the necessity of military intervention in Obama’s speech was a sobering juxtaposition to his reason for speaking, and showed his reluctance and humility in accepting such a large award.  She is speaking to the rise of diplomacy as the peaceful solution to international problems, saving American as well as human lives from war, famine, poverty and disaster.

What really stuck with me was her mention of international perspective:

“I see it on the faces of the people I meet as I travel — not just the young people who still dream about America’s promise of opportunity and equality, but also seasoned diplomats and political leaders who, whether or not they admit it, see the principled commitment and can-do spirit that comes with American engagement.”  I remembered working with elementary school students back in California on leadership.  I would ask them what their ideal leader would look like, and without fail they all said peaceful.  I realized that some of these children have never lived at a time where the US was not at war.  Their communities are in a constant state of war for all of their formative years, and I cannot imagine how that must be.  9/11 happened when I was in 4th grade – just old enough to understand the implications of what was really going on.  I find it amazing how resilient youth can be, and that people abroad still view us with the vitality and hope some of our own citizens have lost.  I hope for a day where this new diplomacy can see a successful end to our conflicts abroad – multilateralism is the only way to bring the world together.  This new administration is taking the responsible route in fostering cooperative foreign relationships for posterity, reshaping America as the leader it must be.

For a full transcript of the interview and the following questions: